Gendered perspectives on rehabilitation after involuntary resettlement in urban Sri Lanka

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Title: Gendered perspectives on rehabilitation after involuntary resettlement in urban Sri Lanka
Author: Stenholm, Noora
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Matemaattis-luonnontieteellinen tiedekunta, Geotieteiden ja maantieteen laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Department of Geosciences and Geography
Helsingfors universitet, Matematisk-naturvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för geovetenskaper och geografi
Publisher: Helsingfors universitet
Date: 2015
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Regional Studies
Abstract: Involuntary displacements are more common than ever, and the reasons vary from natural disasters, wars and conflicts to environmental degradation and development-induced displacement. Typically, the victims of these phenomena inhabit the Global South, and are further impoverished due to the lack of having a say where and how to live. The lack of social justice and recognition of social development is typical in large-scale involuntary displacements, and also affects to the abilities of people to reconstruct and recover after resettlement. The linkage between forced migration and risk to impoverishment has been widely acknowledged especially in cases that lack participatory measures and proper compensation for the victims. When the impacts are recognized, it is understood that forced resettlement has effects in the economic, social, and physical spheres of life, and can be a major burden for the urban poor. However, involuntary displacement also disrupts the attachments and constructions of sense of place, which have further impacts on social cohesion. The question of community reorganization is crucial in the context where resettlement is simultaneous and combines various heterogeneous groups. The aim of this research is to examine the extent and quality of rehabilitation after involuntary displacement in an urban environment in Sri Lanka. The focus in this research is given to women, as gender is a significant factor in resettlement outcomes, yet it is often ignored in planning and implementation. Gender roles and norms in Sri Lanka are still fixed and conventional, making it an interesting approach to study resettlement and rehabilitation and the daily interactions and perceptions on them. A case study for this research took place in four resettlement sites in the outskirts of Colombo Metro Region, Sri Lanka, which is in the midst of significant urban development plans that aim to relocate tens of thousands of slum dwellers in the need to release prime lands for investments, simultaneously beautifying the city and fighting frequent flooding. The methodological approach applied in this study addresses feminist geography while it looks at rehabilitation measures in the everyday life point of view. It utilized semi-structured interviews of resettled women as a key research method. The case study took place in upgraded underserved settlements that inhabit tsunami-displaced people and development-induced displaced people. Also local experts were interviewed in order to gain a broader understanding of the dynamics and urban policies in the Colombo Metro Region. The case evidences that rehabilitation is a slow process of adaptation, and that physical assets alone cannot improve the livelihoods of slum dwellers. More emphasis should be put into the social relations and community dynamics if participatory measures and development-from-within are to fully deliver. Also full tenure is needed in order to the people to adapt to the mainstream society. For women the question of belonging and reconstructing the sense of place is essential as they spend a lot of their time at home and the immediate environment, and are traditionally in charge of homemaking. Therefore the sense of place and community are essential in the creation of social cohesion and management of the new neighborhood, and along with gender sensitive approaches should not be overlooked if sustainable resettlement is to be pursued as a consequence of ever more crowded cities of the South.

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